by Nichole Giles
You know how writing teachers and editors and agents and other instructional peeps love to say the words “write what you know”? When they say that, it’s kind of a general reference. A way of telling you to write about a subject with which you have experience. Or, you know, something you’ve learned a lot about.
I don’t think they actually mean write scenes and people directly out of your life, with attention to every single exact detail.
Let’s face it. Real life—with all the ups and downs—is in most cases way, way, way too boring for fiction.
But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that your life isn’t boring. Maybe you’re really an undercover spy who lives a double life. Your spouse thinks you’re a sales-person and that you work a nine-to-five job for which you sometimes travel. But really, it’s all a ruse. You’re living a carefully constructed lie in order to hide your real, super-spy identity. Great. That’s good. It would probably make a good story. Especially if a spy nemesis came after your family and you had to help them escape before saving the world.
Although, even if you were a super-spy living a double-life, if you plan to write a fictional story based on your experiences, some things will have to be changed. And I don’t mean just identities. In the world of fiction, your story, however fantastical, has to be believable to the reader. The details have to be evocative, but not too graphic, and your descriptions should be vivid. Just because you were there doesn’t mean your readers can see it like you did. Or that they should. You’re telling a story, not writing in a journal or giving a police report.
But here’s the thing. It’s okay to change those details. It’s okay to give this experience to your characters and make it a little bit different from the way it really happened to you. And it’s okay to change the outcome, emotions, or reactions of other characters in your book. Because it’s fiction. You don’t have to account to anyone for the changes you have made. Not even yourself.
Remember, it’s fiction. Not real life. Take all the creative license you want. Your readers will appreciate you for it.